End of an Error

December 7, 2018 Comments Off on End of an Error

Continuing my tradition of a blogging holiday, it did occur to me that a serious wrinkle in the Force has bubbled up. It’s the formal notification I received last week announcing the end of the FTR.

Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride has been going on so long that no one remembers when it started. That’s partially because it was a long time ago but mostly because those involved are suffering severe memory deficits. DJ pegs it at about twenty years ago; I have only been doing it for ten years or so. It’s an invitation ride that was originated as a tune-up for the road racing season. Historically, as if anything related to FTR deserves the word, it came the weekend before Boulevard Road Race.

That epic battle was scrapped from the race calendar a couple of years ago. SoCal now has no legitimate road races, and only a couple that even pretend. Likewise, the formerly fit and hungry riders who queued up in Ventura County for the FTR’s 117-mile romp up hill and down dale are now a bunch of soggy, saggy, worn-out old shoes.

And that’s the fit ones.

The roll call of riders now is so decrepit that it resembles a funeral procession more than a bike ride. Flatback Harry hasn’t drilled it on the 101 in so many years that no one can even remember what it felt like, and it doesn’t help that his spine is about as flat now as bristlecone pine. DJ himself putters around the neighborhood streets in Manhattan Beach on his bike, putters in his garden, putters in his garage, and, rumor has it, even put-ters on the golf course.

Whatever he does, the days of yore when he could be counted on to slay all but Konsmo and G$ on the slopes of Balcom Canyon are long gone. He now hires a daycare assistant to bundle him into the handi-care van and lug him to the top. Sad days, indeed. The only truly reliable FTR old shoes are Shon Holdthetree, who still regularly runs into the taco cart in Santa Maria, and Bull, who prepares for the FTR with by cleaning out the Mexican food buffet with the vigor that he always has.

This last edition of the FTR, already tinged with the saccharine nostalgia of old people reminiscing fondly about how good they never were, promises to be so far from epic that even the long-extinct dinosaurs such as Tumbleweed have thrown their hats in the ring. We can expect regularly spaced defibrillators, crash carts, and matronly nurses to gently tie down the gurney straps as each worn out old shoe muddles his way back to the post-ride feast.

The FTR is dead, long live the FTR.

END

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Doddering into the void

February 6, 2018 § 1 Comment

This year for the FTR I got to experience what it was like to be a journalist: Write about something I hadn’t actually done myself.

And I will tell you, it was no fun. No fun because two full days before the onset of Dave Jaeger’s world-famous French Toast Ride I was flat on my back with the flu, where I mostly remained until a few hours ago. No fun because everyone who showed up for the ride apparently had huge amounts of fun (except for those whose fun ration was somewhat minimal). And mostly no fun because I didn’t get to enjoy the hospitality of the Jaeger clan.

Some people wonder why you would wander across Ventura County for 118 miles, climbing Balcom Canyon at Mile 100, with people who mostly just want to drop you, but Dave has an explanation for it: “The ride is just the stupid excuse for a bunch of friends to sit around, have french toast for breakfast, and celebrate afterwards with some sandwiches and a couple of beers.”

Where else do you get to show up at someone’s private home at 7:00 AM, wreck their bathroom, be treated to homemade delicious french toast, eggs, bacon, and hot coffee, go out for an all-day bike ride, stop at another relative’s house en route to refuel and get rid of toxic wastes, and at the end shower up in those same folks’ home while eating a delicious lunch they’ve prepared for you?

Whatever else was clear after this edition of the FTR, none could  doubt that age and the ravages of droopy prostates had laid low what was once if not the cream of Southern Californian manhood, at least some of its mostly unspoiled skim milk. In fact, the biggest showdown of FTR 2018 was simply being able to stagger to the starting line.

Three riders including me were stricken by plague and couldn’t start, one had heart problems and was put on the disabled list, one realized he’d rather do grandpa duties and telegraphed in his regrets, and two others simply rolled over in bed a few weeks ago and passed their coveted spot onto someone else. When the ride itself started there were immediate indications that this and all future FTR’s would need to have a geriatric route option for those whose creaky bones and flapping heart valves weren’t up to the task of Balcom, and by the time Balcom Canyon rolled around Stern-O and Tumbleweed showed their platinum AARP cards and were allowed to take shortcuts back to the ranch.

Age and infirmity reared their ugly heads on the steeps of Balcom, as is always the case, but unlike years past when exhausted desperadoes have hung onto slow-moving vehicles, this year’s Brokeback Balcom Award went to Randy T., who simply got off and walked. At the award ceremony when he was presented with the DFL trophy, Michael remarked to general hilarity that Randy “didn’t deserve the trophy because the figure on it was actually riding the bike.”

Bull suffered mightily over the course of the day, which was easy to understand given his twelve miles of prep since last October, but it wasn’t until his bike un-maintenance prowess came to the fore in the form of two dead e-Tap batteries that things looked grave. WHO KNEW YOU HAD TO CHARGE THEM? As Bull’s face fell, contemplating another twenty miles including the Golf Course Climb, all done in his 52 x 13, he plaintively asked whether “anyone happened to have a spare battery”?

Randy T. did, saving the crew from having to take turns carrying Bull up and over what, at ride’s end, would have been every bit as brutal as the Matterhorn.

The two Illinois first timers acquitted themselves with incredible distinction. Old Plodder felt strong gravitational effects on every climb but never came close to quitting. Young Plodder rode strong as befit his youth but distinguished himself with the most egregious lie of FTR 2018 when he reported to me over the phone that “After we finished I kind of wanted to go out and ride some more.” Check that quote with the photo of the guy in the red and white jersey with his head in his hands and the 1,000-yard stare and tell me how much more he “wants to go out and ride.”

Sadly, there wasn’t much more to report. People were too old to rock and roll but definitely not too young to die.

As far as the roll call went, it looked like this:

  1. David Jaeger
  2. MMX
  3. Frias
  4. Major Bob
  5. Garrett
  6. Hotten
  7. G3
  8. G$
  9. Stern-O* (Geriatric Route)
  10. Randy T.
  11. Shon
  12. Jeff K.
  13. Tumbleweed* (Geriatric Route)
  14. Andy S.
  15. Craig L.
  16. Bull
  17. Harry
  18. Surfer Dan
  19. Scott B.
  20. Mark P.
  21. Baby Seal

When the dust had settled and the bottles had been drained, and the exhausted riders were happily settled into the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101 back to points south, one rider took a minute to gather his thoughts and sum up the ride better than anyone ever has, or will:

We were just discussing how great the ride was today! Baby Seal just told me that his favorite part of the day was the awards ceremony. The intimacy and love between that group and your family is heartwarming. You truly put on an event that is one of a kind!

END

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About Cycling in the South Bay: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.

A little leg-opener

January 22, 2017 § 29 Comments

I learned a great phrase in Book IV of my textbook, “Practical Chinese Reader,” which so far hasn’t been practical or even much of a reader. In addition to chapters called “I Want to Open a Law Office” and “The Foreign Son-in-law Spends the Spring Festival in the Countryside,” this series hasn’t been in touch with my daily experiences.

Until yesterday, when something happened in my life that finally fit with a new Chinese vocabulary phrase, 宁静致远, which means “Quietly achieving over a long time.”

Because that’s exactly what Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride is. It’s been going on so long that no one even remembers when it started. The earliest photos are from 2003, and it predates that by years. Of course Dave often can’t remember what he had for breakfast, so it’s no surprise that he can’t remember into the dim past of the late 1900’s.

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However long it’s been going on, it shows no sign of letting up, as each year a new crew of idiots combines with an old crew of sadists to set forth on a death march through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. What’s most meaningful, though, is that each year Jim and Nancy Jaeger open their home to a random assortment of strangers, and then the combined forces of Steve and Gina Jaeger, Cindi and Heather Rogers, Lynn and Carly and Macy Jaeger arise long before dawn to make mountains of French toast, bacon, and scalding hot coffee. The love and effort and work that they put in to create the best day on a bike every single year is amazing, and their compassion at that time Stern-O clogged the toilet with four pounds of toilet paper so that he’d have a rear end clean enough to eat off of qualifies them for sainthood.

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Of course DJ’s idea isn’t to provide you with a hearty meal that will get you through the upcoming 117-mile beatdown, it’s to stuff you with bread, sugar, and plenty of grease so that when the sugar crash hits at Mile 20 you will climb into a tiny little hurt locker that gets put into a trash compactor and squeezed, harder and harder, for another five hours until you cry, quit, or take a break with Bull at the Santa Paula all-you-can-eat Mexican-and-Chinese buffet. Or you take Uber.

The key to a successful FTR is having enough new suckers riders, and this year we had a bumper crop. Of course there was the usual assortment of wankers who canceled the night before due to a sniffle or a diaper rash and the grim realization that all their bold talk was going to be tossed into the incinerator at Mile 100 a/k/a Balcom Canyon (Fireman, Johnny Boy, Dogg, Big Tex), and there were the stalwarts who couldn’t toe the line because they had broken legs (G3), infirm bladders, gout (Gussy), consumption (Iron Mike), extreme old age and vast wealth (Stern-O), congenital lethargy (Elron), degenerative tenacititis, a terrible illness that gradually reduces once-tenacious bike racers into soft and easily crushed buttercups, unable to withstand the slightest hint of adversity (Martin, Turtle, Hair, Manslaughter, too many to name), those who would absolutely love to have made it gosh they were so looking forward to it but kiddie soccer (MMX, G$), and those who did it once out of grim obligation and take me off the list now please (Phil, Randall).

FTR was the cornerstone of my 2017 race season, a building block upon which all others would rest. As my coach told me back in 1984, “You suck and you’ll never improve,” and I’ve been building on that for years.

After having tried to get beyond the “you suck level” of competition via the kimchi diet, the coffee diet, the beer diet, unemployment, 100% carbon made of full carbon that is pure carbon, Rugged MAXX II virility supplements, huge intensity + huge volume training, power meters, Garmins, training by sensation, nose breathing, and finally super low volume of everything except sleep, I decided to try the “leg opening” method of race prep.

Leg opening requires you to do one brief, 15-20 minute semi-hard effort the day before the race, and then spinning for an hour two, max. The idea is that with some moderate intensity and loosening of the spiracles, your pump will be primed for excellent performance on race day.

So naturally a 117-mile smashfest finishing up Balcom Canyon would be perfect. What could go wrong?

What went wrong

The first thing that went wrong was Skippy’s bike. By the second stop light out of town his chain refused to stay on the cogs, throwing the chain every time he put any torque on the pedals. By the time we had ascended the first obstacle, a tiny bump on Stockton Rd. that was won for the first time in decades by someone other than Roadchamp, Skippy was in tears.

I, on the other hand, was behind him and watched him dismount and howl in frustration. “That’s it!” he yelled. “I’m calling Uber!”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My chain! It won’t stay on!”

“Is it new?”

“Brand new! I put it on last night!”

“And the cassette?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is it new, too?”

“No. Why?”

“Oh, no reason,” I said, as I sprinted away to catch the group.

Fortunately, Skippy was able to put it in his 34 x 32, the only combo that kept the chain on the chain ring. I say “fortunately” because nothing makes for a better FTR than watching a hapless newbie about to ride the rest of the day in mini-gears, with a high likelihood that even if he made it most of the ride, he’d have to dismount on Balcom Canyon and walk the half-mile, 18% grade in his cleats.

In addition to Skippy, the old boys’ network, which was now a droopy old men’s network, had invited a woman rider after the only other female participant in 2003 promptly gave up cycling forever. I had suggested Iron Maiden as a newbie invitee because it seemed like having a ride where the only people who got ridden to pieces and kicked to the curb were men wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t we also get a woman out there who would implode, beg for a sip from our water bottle at Mile 110 while both legs cramped, and then get left for lost in Camarillo at ride’s end because she didn’t know the Jaegers’ address? I’m all for equality, yo.

However, Iron Maiden, who’d only been biking for a year, was suspicious. This is because to date everything I’d told her had either been completely wrong or an outrageous lie, frequently both. “Is this something I can do? The farthest I’ve ever ridden is 50 miles.”

“No problem. You can race twice the distance you train.”

“But I only train 25 miles a couple of times a week.”

“It’s not a race. It’s a fun ride.”

“It is?”

“Sure. Just friends going out for a pedal. Plus it’s a no-drop ride.”

Her antenna went up, because in her short tenure she had learned that “no-drop” was bikerspeak for “kill the weak.”

“No, thanks. It sounds too hard. Maybe next year.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I didn’t figure you’d do it, being a woman and everything.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s too hard for a woman now that I think about it. Only one woman has ever done it.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “I’m doing it.”

“Good call. Plus there’s no way you’ll be last. Junkyard is going to be there.”

She brightened. Having Junkyard on the ride was the ultimate form of pace protection. “I’ll just stay close to him,” she said. I forgot to mention that Junkyard had been doing 500-mile weeks preparing for FTR and was in top form.

Giants of the road

Perhaps the next worst decision of the ride was when DJ asked me who else to invite. “Someone who can do it, but who will fit in. A good dude.”

“Oh, that’s easy. Garrot. He’s great.”

“Garrot? WTF kind of name is that?”

“He was a Marine in the Special Forces. Or maybe it was the Ordinary Forces.  Or maybe the Special Ed Forces. I’m not sure. Anyway, he’s totally mellow and chill. Good dude.”

“I’m trusting you here, Wanky,” said DJ, which isn’t the first time that people have been led astray by climbing that particular decision tree.

I had forgotten to mention that Garrot only had two speeds, “on” and “off,” and I’d never seen the “off.” A short ride for Garrot was 150 miles. Plus, he was a monster climber. Plus, he had a fierce sprunt. Plus, he was always pleasant and kind, especially when slitting your throat.

And then there was the revelation of the Tour, a/k/a Taco Wagon. Taco Wagon had impressed all in 2015 when, in a driving hailstorm, he had spied a taco wagon and took down half the peloton as he skidded out in his haste to get a burrito, or to shelter himself under the taco wagon’s awning, or both.

This year he had come with a mission, and it was a mission that would clash with Garrot’s and eventually become a battle of the titans. After taking the Stockton KOM, Garrot fell victim to superior road knowledge, and Taco Wagon took the Fillmore sprunt. We had an interlude where Bull took fifteen minutes to change a tire and spiced it up by also yanking out a rear brake pad. In exasperation, DJ flatted too in order to show Bull how to properly change a flat. But no one, including Junkyard, knew how to use Junkyard’s new CO2 inflator, and twelve cartridges later we’d used up all of our air and DJ had used up every epithet he knew and had to start back over with the various combinations beginning with “f.”

The race to Ojai

Bull, Iron Maiden, King Harold, Junkyard, Pilot (who had already lost an engine and was scanning for the Hudson), and I were all immediately dropped on the climb heading towards Ojai. Radio reports confirmed that Taco Wagon took the Ojai sprunt, as Garrot didn’t know that the key to Ojai wasn’t a city limit sign but simply raising your hands when you got in front of everyone else. Now it was a blood feud.

As we droppees pedaled into Ojai, cold, tired, thirsty, hungry, and already beat to snot a mere forty-seven miles in, we were incredibly excited at the prospect of some more Barbie food, a toilet, and ten minutes of rest. Unfortunately DJ was on a schedule that had been delayed by his and Bull’s tire changing lessons, and we got zero rest and only seven or eight thousand calories of Hostess donuts to get us into Ventura, which was a billion miles away.

Mt. Casitas

Although I had been sandbagging like crazy helping the slower riders all the way to Ojai, my true goal for the day was to have a convincing climb over Casitas Pass. The problem with my goal was that in order to achieve it, I’d have to drop DJ, who I’d never dropped before, Garrot, who I’d never dropped before, and Young David, a 22-year-old who I’d suckered into coming but who was mostly flaying everyone alive. Plus, I’d have to keep Roadchamp in view, a virtual impossibility on the uphill but not out of the question on the descent, as he was famed for the descending skills of a one-legged turtle.

Garrot attacked early and dropped everyone, but had to contend with a bitter headwind, and more importantly with Aston-Martin, a quiet and friendly hairy-legged freddie whose palmares included several national titles as a collegiate rower. Roadchamp jumped and dropped everyone but me, as I had cagily held onto his jersey. Reaching Garrot, Roadchamp kicked again and I wished that I too had put on a brand new chain the night before.

Garrot saw me struggling and attacked, leaving me for dead. I paused and soon enough up came Taco Wagon, pounding like a madman with Aston-Martin in tow. We sat on his wheel, used him up like an old snotrag, and then Aston-Martin jumped. I easily went with Aston-Martin for three or two whole seconds before blowing disastrously. Taco Wagon scooped me up with Garrot in tow, Aston-Martin up the road, and Roadchamp a glimmering dot up in the Crab Nebulae.

Taco Wagon faltered and I engaged my bottom bracket motor, chasing up to Aston-Martin and, incredibly, dispensing with Garrot. A bunch of lies and extravagantly false memories ensued, and we comprised the final threesome over the last part of the climb.

However, we were soon overhauled on the descent, spanked for our temerity, and crushed in the sprunt for the Santa Barbara County Line.

Junkyard runs out of spare parts

After that, a bunch of stuff happened, most of it fast, or probably really slow, but we’d passed the halfway mark and I was done. Iron Maiden looked like Tin Maiden, or maybe Aluminum Foil Maiden. “How are you doing?” I asked, solicitously.

“Screw you,” she said.

Aston-Martin, DJ, and Garrot found the front all the way into Ventura and pounded our entrails, where we stopped at the Circle K, America’s nastiest convenience store. Fortunately, it had none of the things we wanted, like a toilet, but one of the things you learn quickly on FTR is that tradition reigns, and just because something is a terrible idea means nothing. Surfer Dan sidled up to me. “Dude,” he said. “We’ve passed a hundred cool coffee shops with real food in Ventura. Why are we stopping at this dumpster?”

“Urgle,” I said. “I mean, tradition.”

“Tradition? What’s tradition about NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS?”

“Tradition is forgetting the reason for something you’re afraid to change.”

Surfer rolled his eyes, swung off at the Sckubrats, had the only square meal of the day, and continued the ride without ever having broken a sweat.

The climb out of Ventura is gradual but murderous, like eating opened safety pins. Somewhere along the way Junkyard began running out of spare parts. First it was a lung, then a ventricle, then a kidney, then a right leg, but it wasn’t until a big puff of smoke came out of his butt that I realized things were serious. With a couple of perfectly timed pushes from friends he dug all the way to China, hung on, and made it through to Santa Paula, setting us all up perfectly for Balcom Canyon.

There’s not much to say about Balcom Canyon except this:

  1. Roadchamp annihilated it.
  2. Taco Wagon fell over and into a barbed wire fence.
  3. Skippy walked it.
  4. Junkyard, defending his hard-won last place, hitched a ride in a passing car and arrived without mussing a hair.
  5. Everyone else wanted to puke and die rode gallantly, and put in a pathetic masterful performance.

With only fourteen miles to go to the barn, I turned to Iron Maiden. “How are your legs?”

“Tired but I’m okay. You?”

“I’m cramping.”

“Where?”

“Both legs. Same time. Oh, shit.” I did the little wheezy-sheezy crampy moan.

“Where’s your water bottle?” she asked.

“I forgot it back atop Balcom.”

“I’ve still got some energy drink left. Will that help?”

“Yes.” I looked at her with pleading, big-doe eyes. “Can I have a sip?”

“No,” she said, and pedaled away. Then at the very end everyone dropped me on the golf course climb.

Tall tales

Back at the Jaegers’ home we ate, but not before Skippy complained about his chain some more. “Dude,” I said. “You killed it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You did the whole fucking FTR with a broken chain.”

“Yeah, but I wanted to …”

“Beat Roadchamp? Take a fucking number, buddy. You just did the most epic thing ever.”

“Yeah, but I …”

“Think about it. If you hadn’t had the wrong chain you would have just been another knucklehead out getting his dick stomped on a long bike ride. Instead you created an entire legend for an entire chapter of the FTR.”

“Really?”

“Really. Chapeau.” And for the first time all day I said something I actually meant.

A proper leg-opener

The next morning I awoke at 5:00 AM wondering who turned on the fire hydrant and who had beaten my thighs with a meat tenderizer while I slept. The hydrant, it turned out, was the deluge hitting SoCal, continuing the heaviest rainfall here in decades.

The stabbing thigh pains were apparently from my FTR leg-opener.

I put my bike in the car to go race. The closer to the race I got, the more my phone started to smoke with “I ain’t racing today, bro” messages. Our leaky prostate race captain, who had spent the last two weeks urging everyone to sign up and go race, rain or shine, had cleverly bailed at the last minute, leaving only the truly stupid to stand around beneath a freezing downpour in their underwear.

I could see why he abandoned us in our hour of need. There was zero feet visibility. The road was a river. It was raining meatballs. The risk of death and carbon destruction was high. The rewards were nil.

But–bike race!

And of course, Mrs. WM had said as I left, “It’s onna crazy rainin’ so you the only dummy and maybe win because other dummy all in bed.” Mrs. WM knew a thing or two about bike racing.

At the line there were only five other dummies, each clearly foiled in his race plan of “I’m doing this race because there can’t possibly be anyone stupid enough to do this besides me so I’ll automatically win and get $20.”

The race started and was miserable in a very fun kind of way and we went round and round until all the fun got washed off and we were left coated in hell and drinking each others’ rear-wheel spew and then we were numb and then with eighteen minutes to go I hit it and felt very tired and wheezy and suddenly it was sprunt time and everyone knows Wanky don’t sprunt and I didn’t today either, just pedaled a little harder and the other handful of numbskulls either gave up (unlikely) or weren’t strong enough (highly doubtful) or were unable to see the finish line due to the pounding sideways sheet rain (certainty) and somehow I notched a win and got a check for $50 which almost offset my $3,000 sponsorship of the race, and a sippy cup that says “Race Winner” and you know what?

I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. But I might shave a mile or two off the leg-opener.

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END

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What color are your butterflies?

January 20, 2017 § 4 Comments

Tomorrow is the big day. The big ride. The one you’ve been training for. Planning for. Buying lots of new everything for, especially carbon that is always pure carbon, made with 100% all-carbon fiber fibre.

“The hay is in the barn,” as G$ likes to say, “so relax.”

BUT YOU’RE NOT G$.

So you lay out your clothes and man are you selective. Those shorts with the white rear panels that give everyone a view of the gate when the sun hits them right? Out.

That beloved-but-stained heroine’s jersey from your KOM up Kidneystone Pass? Not tomorrow. Tomorrow you have to look fresh. New. Perfect.

And you’re not ashamed to sock measure, either, laying out your six pairs of identical socks and making sure that the right and left are exactly the same height.

Bike? Buffed and spiffed, chain redolent with the smell of fresh Wend chain wax.

Tars? New front, new back, filled up with brand new air, two spares and two cartridges in case Ms. Very Bad Luck strikes not once but twice.

Glasses washed, helmet wiped, phone charged, wallet crammed with money and credit card, Barbie food laid out, bottles topped off with super power drinky stuff, Garmin charged, alarm set, you climb into bed and lie there, eyes wide open, heart pounding, butterflies fluttering without rest.

Yep, it’s those darned butterflies, and the more you skip and hop around with that big floppy net the less you catch ’em. What color are yours?

Are they gray butterflies of dread, certain that the whole thing is going to be a massive catastrophe?

Are they little pink butterflies that anxiously flap up to the door of the blast furnace and then skip back with their butts singed?

Are they terrified yellow butterflies, deeply concerned about falling, flatting, getting dropped, knocking someone down, getting lost, bonking, and pretty sure that it will be all of the above?

Are they blue butterflies of unavoidable fate, destiny locked in, the exact result unknown but who cares because it’s going to be bad?

Are they bloodshot butterflies of exhaustion, wondering how you’ll complete a 118-mile beatdown that finishes up Balcom Canyon on two hours of sleep?

Well, here’s a little secret.

It doesn’t matter what color your butterflies are.

Because everybody has ’em.

END

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Clodhopper gets a bid

January 9, 2015 § 22 Comments

It’s that time of year, when folks are downright desperate. On Saturday we will roll out on the annual French Toast Ride, the finest, best, most awesome, wonderful, and miserable smashfest of the year. The ride starts and finishes at the home of DJ’s parents, who stuff us full of French toast, bacon, sausage, coffee, eggs, and other delicious food, then stuff us again seven hours later when we return. As a result, participation is by invitation only. No more than twenty-four riders have ever been privileged to do the ride.

This leads to the inevitable question, “How do I get invited?”

It’s simple, really, even though there are thousands who want one of the coveted slots. First, you have to ride with DJ at Saturday morning at 6:00 AM a couple of dozen times, leaving from the top secret launchpad of CotKU. These rides are long and miserably hard, not because of DJ’s riding ability but because he tells the same three stories for hours on end, week in and week out. After your third ride most people decide that whenever the FTR happens, they’re busy that weekend.

Those who endure the rides must then do this every year for a few years. Eventually, but probably not, you will then get invited. DJ bases his invitations on a secret set of rules that are all subordinate to The Rule, which is this: DJ Makes All The Rules.

Some of the rules are:

  1. No Freds.
  2. No wankers.
  3. No last-minute-undependables.
  4. No whiners.
  5. No riders who violate the secret rules.

However, exceptions abound, which give hope to all, for example:

  1. No Freds, but numerous Long Beach and New Mexico riders have participated.
  2. No wankers, but numerrous unfit, hopeless peloton anchors and Elron have participated.
  3. No last-minute-undependables, but … Neumann.
  4. No whiners, but Wanky.

In other words, hope springs eternal, and if you show up for the secret Saturday rides, laugh at the corny jokes, cajole, wheedle, and get down on your knees to beg, there’s a slight chance you might get invited if someone else cancels. You might think that such a prestigious event would never have cancellations, but you would be wrong.

Why?

Because at Mile 102 you hit Balcom Canyon, and there are still sixteen hard miles to go after that. If you don’t know Balcom, it’s the most incredible … never mind. In other words, the Freddies who eagerly slurp up their invitation in October begin getting nervous in November, having doubts in December, and experiencing severe diaper rash in January. There’s a trickle of defections around Thanksgiving, an exodus at Christmas, and one or two quitters in January. Of course the most heinous quitter in the history of the FTR whose name shall remain unnamed (Neumann) had the gall to simply not show up the morning of the ride and therefore be banished from the invite list forever, but that is another story.

This gives the waitlisters, who have been burning incense and slaughtering goats like mad, hope. And don’t think the waitlisters have simply been roasting quadrupeds on a spit and offering up vestal virgins to the FTR dogs. Nope, they’ve been lobbying like crazy, and they lobby like this.

“Hey, Bull.”

“Yeah?”

“You doing FTR this year?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think you could get me in?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“It’s full.”

“What if someone cancels?”

“It’s still full. For you.”

“Aw come on. Don’t you remember that meal I bought you at Charlie’s Cheese and Lard House and All You Can Eat Buffet?”

“Well, yeah.”

“So can’t you put in a good word for me? Please? I’m good for two more dinners a Charlie’s, buddy old pal.”

So then Bull, or whichever other FTR participant has been guilted into making a futile request, sidles up to DJ on a ride. “Hey, DJ, how’s it going?”

“No.”

“No what?”

“No, he can’t come.”

“Who?”

“Whoever. We’re full.”

And that’s how it goes. What’s worse, if the FTR hopeful has never actually done a Top Secret Saturday Ride, or worse, doesn’t know DJ personally, that person’s name gets entered into a Top Secret Shit List and is forever barred from the sacred FTR invitation email.

Of course no one has ever asked me to lobby for them because I have no pull, and I won’t do it, and the answer is always “No.”

Enter the Hopper

I hadn’t seen Clodhopper in a long time. Ever since they shut down the Parkway and we stopped doing the NPR, he had gone stealth on my radar screen. A few days ago I sent him a Happy New Year email. Clodhopper is one of those guys who, like a great case of mold, grows on you. He pinged me right back and returned the New Year greetings. “You doing FTR?” he asked.

“Yep,” I said, knowing what would come next.

“Enjoy!” he emailed.

And that was it.

Of course that was it, because Clodhopper don’t beg. He’d been assiduously doing the Top Secret Corny Joke Rides all year, he knew the chance of admission was somewhat less than zero, and he did them anyway. But among all the pretenders and SoCal profamateurs and not-good-enough-to-ride-pro-but-good-enough-to-be-a-masters-racer fakers who do the FTR, Clodhopper is the only cyclist among us who’s actually an athlete.

Let me put it this way: Even though he looks like he’s had one cheeseburger too many, Clodhopper once held the world record in the 1600-meter relay. We’re not talking a silver medal at the master’s nationals crit, folks. We’re talking the fastest human being on the planet in an actual sport, as opposed to geriatrics in clown suits on wheels.

When Clodhopper took up cycling back in the 90’s, he showed up at the Lake Castaic road race and won by smashing the snot out of Jeff Pierce, who was only a couple of years past his record as the first American to win a stage at the Tour, and the only American ever to win on the Champs-Elysees. Clodhopper, in addition to a world record at the pinnacle of the world’s most competitive sport, was also a badass on the bike … before he met all those cheeseburgers.

Nonetheless, I’ve ridden with him enough to know that he can still crank out more watts on a 5-hour-a-week training plan than most full time profamateurs. Genes + pain threshold + world titles on the track = Clodhopper Don’t Beg.

“Yo, Clodhopper,” I said when I saw him next, “what have you been up to?”

“Been doing the Saturday rides with DJ.”

“And no FTR invite?”

“Nope.”

“Want me to put in a word for you?” I never put in a word for anyone, except perhaps the word “wanker.”

“No, thanks,” he said. “I’ll do the Saturday rides this year and hope for a ride in 2016.”

“Let me ask,” I said.

“I’m specifically telling you not to ask. If I’m a fit I’ll get an invite. If not, it’s a blast riding with those guys.”

He had clearly lost his mind. So, I went home and composed a carefully-worded email to DJ that went exactly like this: “Yo, DJ: Clodhopper.”

A couple of days later, I got the email with the finalized list of participants. There at the bottom was Clodhopper’s name. I immediately called him. “Dude,” I said. “Me and Surfer Dan need a ride. Got room?”

“Of course,” he said. “You said something to DJ, didn’t you?”

“Me? No. Never. I got no pull, dude.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Whatever.”

Wankers, start your engines!

The final start list is below. It will be epic.

1) Road Champ
2) Dogg
3) Flatback
4) Manslaughter
5) SternO
6) Full Gas
7) Dream Crusher
8) G$
9) Major Bob
10) Spyvee
11) BP a/k/a Oilspill
12) Dally
13) Hair
14) Iron Mike
15) MMX
16) G3
17) Hottie
18) Surfer Dan
19) Bull
20) FTR DS
21) Wanky
22) Limey Carboy
23) Clodhopper
24) LRon
25) Marmaluke

END

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Good love

January 19, 2014 § 23 Comments

The 2014 edition of Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride had diverse offerings, including the flowers and bushes on the edge of Price Road who were nourished by the projectile vomiting of Uberfred. He had made the fatal mistake of taking a well-aged piece of a sweat-soaked, partially gnawed Snickers bar offered up by Sterno, and instead of magically transforming from Betty White to Eddy Merckx, he almost metamorphosed into Dude With Stomach Cramps Lying In The Ditch Five Miles From The End.

It was a French Toast Ride that began with piles of thick toast soaked in French, pan-fried to a golden glow, and poured down the hungry maws of the hardy riders who had managed to wake up on time and get to the feed zone at Camarillo by 7:30. The delectable toast, cooked in the home of Dave’s parents Jim and Nancy, was accompanied by stacks of bacon, pans of sausage, gobs of butter, buckets of cream, a giant urn of coffee, and a small plate of fruit as a sop to the healthful. No one was fooled, however. There would be nothing healthful about this FTR, just like there had been nothing healthful about any of the other fifteen editions of the ride.

A little something bad for everyone

The genius of the FTR is the way it disappoints, frustrates, humbles, aggravates, and insults each rider in a unique way over the course of 118 nasty, windy miles and almost 9,000 feet of very unpleasant climbing. Despite a day filled with unpleasantness and misery, each year the same cadre of idiots happily reconvene to do it all over again. If you have zero fitness, like Turtle, FTR is simple masochism. You drag your butt over the course, last up every climb, last to every stop, first one to get shelled when the pace picks up, and typically you get up Balcom Canyon by holding onto a gardener’s truck or with a hoist.

If you’re somewhat prepared, FTR is a day filled with cagey wheelsucking, where, like Toronto, you stay near the front in anticipation of a move, but never actually on it. Fear of being shelled cancels the duty to do your share, but of course it all pays off when, like Toronto, you absolutely blaze up the climbs and stick with the lead group when the pace ramps up.

If you’re supremely prepared, like Surfer Dan, the ride is pure agony, because when the group splits at the first climb less than 20 miles into the ride, and you’re ready to ride the remaining 100 miles in a death march with five other guys, the group halts, Dave coddles the weak and the dropped, and everyone gets back together. Yet despite the beatdown, the coddling, the stopping, the hand-holding, the hammering, the climbing, the sprunting, the cramping, and the unholy exhaustion that sets in at Mile 100, just before you tackle the 20-percent slopes of Balcom, the FTR is the best, happiest, most satisfying and rewarding ride you’ll ever do.

How can that be? Because of good love.

The ties that bind

Dave’s parents are in their 70’s, and what possesses them to allow a ravenous mob of cyclists to invade their modest home every year, prance around semi-naked as they change into kit, rub smelly embro all over their bodies, stink up their bathroom with the quaking bowels of twenty men with the pre-ride purge, and occasionally (like the year Stern-O wiped his derriere with four pounds of toilet paper) clog up the pipes in the entire house, I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is this. The Jaegers have good love, and it permeates their home, their family, and every aspect of the FTR.

It’s the kind of love that is built year by year over decades, one day at a time, through the rewards and travails of raising kids, living through the hard knocks and comfortable landings of life, trusting in the person next to you when the chips aren’t simply down, they’re not even on the table anymore. The Jaegers’ good love, quiet and unassuming, solid as bedrock and there as predictably as the sunrise, spills over into every aspect of the FTR. That love is, of course, what gave rise to Dave, and that love is, of course, what Dave and Lynn have in their own marriage — you can see it because nowadays the Jaegers are FTR hosts emeritus. The brunt of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and making it happen is done by Dave’s wife Lynn, his sister-in-law, and his daughters.

The good love doesn’t stop with sharing the plumbing and the home and the food. The good love is part of the ride itself, mostly old guys getting older and weaker, along with an infusion of new 30-something blood to keep everyone broken and in pain throughout the day. Every year the pummeling and the projectile vomiting and the pro wheel changes and the butt pats and the towing on the flats and the full-gas sprunting and the empty, vacant looks of misery at the Circle K in Ventura … these things bubble and boil and then harden, solidifying into something that can only be called “I’d do anything for you,” also known as “love.” That love is especially poignant when it involves doing your utmost to crush your closest friends and bring them to their knees.

The beaches of Normandy a/k/a Balcom Canyon Road

This is a nasty climb, just under one mile long, that averages ten percent and slams up to twenty on the steepest ramp. On any day it would be a beast, but Dave has it positioned at about Mile 100 into the ride, after huge efforts up Grimes Canyon, the 4-mile race to Fillmore, the 7-mile climb from Santa Paula towards Ojai, the 3-mile race and sprint into Ojai, the murderous twin peaks of Lake Casitas and sprint for the Santa Barbara County line, and the miserable, endless climb out of Ventura when your legs are filled with poison and your morale is at its all-time lowest.

Then, and only then, with the tank on empty and your mental fortitude in the gutter, do you hit Balcom Canyon. It gets in your head, starting pretty much with the first piece of French toast. As we plowed along Mountain Road, each pedal stroke along the five miles leading to the turnoff onto Balcom Canyon Road felt like I was pedaling towards my doom. The flurry of tiny, twanging, twinges that had begun in Ojai gradually morphed into full blown cramps. That’s a good sign before the steepest, hardest climb of the day right? The one where it’s common to paperboy just to get up it, right? The one where you count it as victory just getting to the top, right?

Wrong. It was a bad sign.

Everyone felt the doom. This is how soldiers felt sitting in little steel boats with tiny motors as they churned towards the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. It’s a sickness in your stomach and a bitter misery in your head. Reality has something ugly in store for you and you cannot avoid it. Whether that bad reality will be your complete undoing or not is the only question. But whereas the soldiers on D-Day leaped into frigid water to face the murderous rake of machine guns and mortars and artillery and mines and concertina and horrific injury and death, we faced something much worse: The knowledge that each pedal stroke would be painstakingly analyzed on Strava by all of our friends.

When we made the turn, it was clear that honor for the Balcom KOM would be decided among Surfer Dan, Manslaughter, G$, and Unpronounceable. Before the Balcom climb proper, you have to batter for 1.5 miles, usually into a headwind, up a 2-percent grade to the base of the climb. Although it had been tried before, most famously during the Pee Stop Attack by Wanky in 2010, no one had ever succeeded in stealing a march on the group before the base of the climb.

This year was different. Surfer Dan took one look at the haggard, frightened, sniveling, and broken faces of his competition and rolled away. Everyone wanted to chase, but only one rider could, and it wasn’t enough. Mike Frias, who had been pulling his brains out, never shirking the front, and digging like a DitchWitch all day long, took over the nastiest chore of the entire day. For the entire 1.5 miles he towed us at full speed, keeping Surfer Dan in our sights but unable to close the gap. We hit the base of the climb and Mike swung over, waving us through. “All yours, boys,” he said, planting his foot squarely on a land mine just as he took an artillery round, a machine gun strafing, and a mortar round to the chest all at once.

Surfer Dan was just ahead of us, but on Balcom Canyon, “just ahead” is a meaningless term because the gradient is so steep that even a few feet can prove impossible to close. Dan churned away as what remained of the chasers detonated. Manslaughter saw his chance and punched it, followed by G$ and Unpronounceable, with BB-gun in hot pursuit. I sent all power to the engines, who, already blown, simply giggled.

The day before Destructionmas

Somehow, while I can’t actually call it “finding a rhythm,” I managed to keep from tipping over by pedaling, and that effort led me ever closer to Unpronounceable. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, came charging Toronto with bounds like a deer. With granny gear twirling, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment he’d stomp on my dick. More rapid than spin class his pedals they turned, and he grunted and labored, and calories burned. “Now, Surfer! Manslaughter! Now, Money and Aaron! On Wanky! Up Balcom I’m rarin’ and tearin’! To the top of the climb! To the top of the wall! It may cost my life, but I’ll pedal, not crawl!” As old men that before the steep obstacle faint, when they meet with the obstacle, rub their sore taint, so up and past Wanky, Toronto he flew, with a grin on his face because deep down he knew, that then, in a twinkling, Wanky would feel, the sting and the bite of Toronto’s sharp steel. And then, in a twinkling, I heard with a start, the breaking and rupture of valves in my heart. As I hung down my head, and was watching his ass, I knew I could not let this old wanker pass. He was pedaling fast, like the canyon he owned, but I knew once he wobbled his engine was blown. A bolus of snot then poured forth from his face, then he tottered and faltered, the end of his race. His eyes how they stared! How bloodshot and red! His cheeks were like corpses, all sunken and dead! His droll little mouth was drawn up in a frown, while spittle and mucous both oozed slowly down. The stumps of his legs shaved clean of their hairs, had gone from full circles to pedaling squares. His lined, broken face and his wheeze from the battle, escaped from his throat in one final death rattle. I left him there quick with a pat on his rump, as if he’d been beaten and chained to a stump. But though he sank back like a great anchor’s plunge, he somehow dug deep and with one final lunge, he gasped and he choked and he coughed up a lung, and finally onto his seventh place hung. Atop mighty Balcom he leaped off his tool, and he pranced and he danced and he texted Joe Yule. “I did it!” he said, “With Clif bars and java! A number I’ll proudly now upload to Strava!” But I heard him exclaim, ere I bombed down the hill, “With a compact next year I will climb faster still!”

Just this one last little bit

Surfer Dan was never reeled in, Manslaughter finished hard on his heels, G$ crested the hill next followed by BB-Gun, me, and Unpronounceable. We regrouped, descended, then hit the gas all the way to Golf Course Hill, a nasty little .3-mile kicker that finishes on a 13 percent grade. The final FTR tally looked like this:

  1. Grimes Canyon: Frias
  2. Fillmore sprunt: Hair
  3. Santa Paula sprunt: Hair
  4. Ojai climb: G$
  5. Ojai sprunt: Hair
  6. Casitas climb, first peak: Surfer Dan
  7. Casitas climb, second peak: Surfer Dan
  8. Santa Barbara county line sprunt: Hair
  9. Ventura county line sprunt: King Harold
  10. Balcom Canyon climb: Surfer Dan
  11. Golf Course climb: Manslaughter
  12. Most trash talked: Wanky

Honorable and Dishonorable Mention

  1. The last-minute cancellations, including Elron who bailed because he was too lazy to get up in time.
  2. Mike Frias for pulling like a Trojan All Fricking Day Award.
  3. 60-year-old Jim Bowles for Octogenarian of the Ride Award.
  4. Stern-O for Toughest Old Boot of the Ride Award.
  5. Turtle for Finishing Award.
  6. Manslaughter for Dude We’re Going to Really Fear Now That He Knows the Route Award.
  7. Unpronounceable for If He Ever Gets Serious About the Road We’re Doomed Award.
  8. Hair for All Around Champion Award.
  9. Surfer Dan for KOM, BOM, and SOM Awards.
  10. Uberfred for Best Projectile Vomit Award.
  11. Toronto for Best Self-Praise Award.
  12. G$ for Best Old Dude Who Rides Better Than the Kids Half His Age.
  13. Danny N. for Gutting It Out Award.
  14. King Harold for Best Recovery After Contracting Bubonic Plague at Training Camp.
  15. Jaeger for Best Mother Hen Award.
  16. Polly for Best Driver Award.
  17. BB-Gun for Best Shock Therapy on Balcom Award.
  18. Golden Boy for Most Awesome Ride With Less than 12 Miles of Training.

About two blocks from the Jaegers’ driveway, both of my legs seized up with those full-body cramps that bring you to a complete standstill while shrieking and grimacing in agony. Fortunately it was downhill, so I cruised into the driveway and tipped over, where I was shortly resuscitated with the Jaegers’ famous post-ride sandwiches and beer. As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, drinking beer, and refilling my plate, one of the family members looked at me. “I noticed that you were the last one in the driveway,” she said. “Does that mean you were last place on the ride?”

I sucked in my breath and got ready to tell her about the fireworks on Grimes, the carnage in Ojai, the warfare up Casitas, the death sprints, the Normandy charge up Balcom, and the final launch up Golf Course, and my incredible heroics at every step of the way. Then I thought about it and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was the last one up the driveway.

I hung my head. “Yes.”

I’m probably not gonna make it

January 17, 2014 § 12 Comments

My excuse isn’t great, but it’s pretty damned good: 118 miles on Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride, where I’ll have to smack down young posers like Jay-Jay LaPlante, Aaron Unpronounceablelastname, Greg “I have another mortal virus” Seyranian, Dan “when does the ride start” Cobley, and one or two other flailers like King Harold and DJ himself. Yeah, I’ll bust their chops up the Lake Casitas climb, on the 101, and then with G$ I’ll time trial from Ventura to the top of Balcom while Stern-O, Bowles, Spivey, and the Long Beach freddies take turns licking each other’s open wounds.

Shorthand: I’ll be too tired for the season opening crit in Dominguez Hills, but I’ll try to make it anyway.

What’s your excuse?

The man with the plan and the white Mercedes van

When Chris Lotts kicks off the season opening SoCal crit on Sunday, January 19, lots of people will be complaining. Why? Because it’s a lot easier to complain than to race your bike. Studies show that complaining exerts a biological cost of less than .00001 homeostatic watts, whereas putting on a single bike race shortens your lifespan by roughly twelve years. Chris is now -459.7 years old, and getting younger by the week.

There are a shit-ton of reasons that you need to be at the CBR race on Sunday, and to show you why, I’ve compiled a list of whines that I’ve heard over the years. If you’ve thought or uttered more than three, I’ll call the whaambulance and have you taken (at your cost) to UCLA Harbor so that they can rub salves and ointments on that special place to relieve your butthurt.

1. “That’s a stupid fuggin’ four-corner industrial crit. That’s not bike racin’.”

Riiiiiiight. What you really want is a 100 km kermesse over wet cobblestones in 42-degree weather and spitting rain, because you’re hard like that. So what if you’ve never finished Boulevard or Punchbowl? In your Velominati fantasy life, you are a Hard Man who can’t be bothered with “easy” races like this. Fortunately, your doctor continues to renew your prescription as soon as it runs out.

2. “CBR races are too easy.”

Easy? Then why do the same handful of guys win every race, races that have 100+ entrants? Hint: Because the other 99 wankers feel strong and fast and fit until a) the winning break rolls up the road, or b) Charon opens up his sprint.

3. “Those races are way too expensive.”

Let’s see … $2,500 for your carbon tubulars … $750 for your three team kits and skin suit … $140 every other month for your training Gatorskins … $72/year for your stupid Strava Premium subscription … $3,900 for your Campy SRM power meter … tell me again about how that $35 entry fee for close to an hour of full-on racing is gonna bust your budget?

4. “Lotts annoys the shit out of me.”

Poor baby! Break out the butt salve! So you can take bumping bars, hitting the asphalt at 30 mph, and racing until your eyes pop out of your head, but you can’t take a little diversity of opinion? You crumple up and die when Chris talks about his “Christian Tingles” web site? Awww, I feel really sorry for you, and I envy the little glass bubble you live in and the inheritance that protects you from getting out and LIVING IN THE REAL FUCKING WORLD.

5. “Those races are a clusterfuck. A handful of big teams control everything.”

Guess what, limpster? The guys on those “teams who control everything” got there by racing their dogdamned bikes, not by sitting at home reading Jonathan Vaughters’s Twitter feed. What’s stopping you from making the break, sitting in, and letting the “big teams” do all the work as you cannily outsprint them to the finish line (besides the fact that you always race at the back and don’t train hard and are 30 pounds overweight)?

6. “I’m more of a stage racer than a crit rider.”

Yeah, and I’m more of a Martian than I am a New Jerseyite. Look, stupid, if you want 21-day stage races, you’re living in the wrong city, county, state, nation, and body.

7. “It’s too early in the season.”

Oh, I get it, the Interwebs coach you pay $399 per month to tell you that you’re “making great progress” has advised you to wait until, say, April? Did it ever occur to you that he wants you to wait until April in order to delay the crushing reality that’s going to batter your ego when you still finish 51st after an after-tax-dollar investment of $15k? Hint: P.T. Barnum said it.

8. “Crits are too sketchy.”

I see. Because you’re the one steady wheel out of the 100+ numbskulls, and, like the mother who watched her son in the marching band and commented “Look! Everyone else in the band is out of step!” you think that no one knows how to properly handle a bike except, of course, you?

9. “Crits are too short to give me a good workout.”

Yes, I understand completely. No one in history has ever ridden to a race, raced, then ridden home. You’re obligated to drive to the race. It’s in the bylaws.

10. “We need more road races in SoCal, like they have in NorCal.”

So you’re going to promote a road race? I didn’t think so. Or you’re going to race in NorCal? Nope — too far and hard and expensive, right? So why not shut the fuck up and support the one guy who shows up week in and week out, who has the genius of being able to put on a bike race and make money at it (okay, so the genius is Vera), and who can take your abuse and never take it (too) personally? Answer: Because you’re not very good, your ego is tender, and it’s easier to talk about bike racing than to race your bike.

See you on Sunday. Or not.

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